Vegetable soup is one of those easy-to-make, flexible, healthy and tasty dishes that come in handy for lots of reasons. Soup is a great way to use up odds and ends of vegetables in your fridge, and it is a filling, nutritious meal or side dish, especially when you are trying to save money or lose weight.
Frugal housewives have made variants on vegetable soup for generations. Basically, look in your refrigerator, take out all the leftover veggies, and add some canned, frozen or fresh ingredients, depending on your taste and what you have available. For instance, you might make soup from green beans, diced tomatoes, spinach and corn soup one week, and soup from potato, onion, green pepper and zucchini the next. If you don't have a large variety of ingredients, take what you do have and add a can of corn, a cup of rice or a chopped potato to bulk up the soup and make it more filling. You will also need 2 to 4 cups of vegetable, chicken or beef stock, depending on how many people you need to feed. Adding oil, herbs and spices also will boost the flavor of the soup. Stick to a basic formula of at least one starch, like corn, potato, pasta or rice, and several vegetables. Then use traditional soup herbs like dill, parsley, oregano, basil, thyme and garlic, or stick with one main stronger spice like cumin, rosemary or a pepper blend. See the Resources section for more ingredient combination ideas.
If your ingredients are all precooked or don't need much cooking, the soup is quick as well as easy. Just add the stock and veggies to a pot, throw in your favorite savory herbs and a tablespoon or two of cooking oil, and bring it to a boil, then simmer for a few minutes and you're done. Longer cooking will result in thicker soup as the water boils off, so if you want more of a stew consistency, let it cook longer. If you are cooking a starch along with the soup, like rice or potatoes, let the soup cook at least 20 minutes to soften and thoroughly cook the raw starches. Another approach is to sauté heavier vegetables if they are raw, such as onion, mushroom, carrot, green pepper, eggplant or zucchini. Then puree them in a blender and use the vegetable puree as a base for your soup. When cooking with mostly frozen veggies, no problem; just expect the soup to take longer to heat up to a boil. With every soup, stir frequently to avoid sticking and uneven heating.
When you eat canned vegetables throughout the week, drain the packing liquid from around them into a plastic container or jar kept in the fridge for a soup stock. It has vegetable taste, usually salt added, and plenty of nutrients from the vegetables, so rather than pouring it down the drain, add it to your next vegetable soup. If you are making enough soup to freeze, leave out delicate ingredients like greens or eggs; they don't freeze well. Other than that, you can freeze most vegetable soups in small containers for an easy lunch or side dish. Another frugal tip: If you don't end up with enough leftover veggies in a week, freeze the bits you do have and take them out when you have enough for a soup.